Convert to DCC

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by dwight77, Nov 30, 2004.

  1. dwight77

    dwight77 Member

    I havent touched my n gauge train in about 15 years so it is pretty well weathered, having been hanging in my garage all this time :) . I have also realized that I am way behind the times electrically now that DCC is available. In reading how you just connect two wires to your track, am I being overly optimistic in thinking that one can install a DCC unit on the existing layout which is completely electically blocked by turning all the blocks on and connecting one wire of the DCC to the main bus for the blocks and the second wire for the DCC to the other track?????. I know I am missing something someplace and it can not be this simple. I dont have any reversing loops or wyes to worry about. I will look forward to your help and suggestions.
  2. moria

    moria Member

    Greetings :)

    Yes you are right...

    Where the old blocked system fed two wires to the block switches, you replace those two wires with the two DCC wires, turn all the blocks on and away you go.

    You appear to be using common return wiring, so it would be a good plan to chack isolation around pointwork to ensure no short circuits, but if your pointwork is insulfrog then it should be fine.

    Ultimately, providing the wiring is correctly in place for DC, it "should" with should being the operative word be ok for DCC :)

    However, you will have to fit your locos with decoders, and that may not be so easy, especially with older stock.


  3. dwight77

    dwight77 Member

    Hi Graham. Thanks for the information. I did recently purchase a Kato diesel, an Atlas diesel, and a Roundhouse 2-8-0. Now the next decision is which DCC to purchase. The Lenz 90 seems like a good place to start from what I have read and it is pretty expandable if I really get going. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated from anyone.
  4. Bikerdad

    Bikerdad Member

    If you can, get your hands on some of the systems. Physically handle them. The throttles (aka cabs) for the DCC systems are all remarkably different from an ergonomic sense. What you like, other folks may hate. Ever have a TV remote that you couldn't stand because of the way it was laid out? Same sort of thing. Aside from that, make a realistic assessment of your current needs (any DCC system will meet your current needs), and your likely future needs. If you can, buy for the future, otherwise, get the least expensive system that meets your current needs.
  5. moria

    moria Member

    HI Dwight :)

    This may be a long reply so bear with me :)

    I think your choice of lenz 90 is excellent, but I would suggest a number of things to consider as this is a major purchase and should be a careful consideration for anyone.

    A little pre-amble.

    I have owned and used the following systems and in this order.. Digitrax Super Empire Builder with DT300 throttles, Atlas Commander with additional Handheld and Lenz 100.

    For me, and this is all very personal stuff, the Digitrax drove me away from DCC. For me, a computer geek who loves technology, I just couldn't get on with the Digitrax and its (to me) silly throttle system with babay knobs that always seemed to have a mind of their own. I see nothing wrong technically with the system, but it didn't work for me, so I was upset at the investment gone wrong and became extreemly anti-dcc.

    Then one fine day, someone on the Atlas forum offered to swap my empire builder and DT300 with an Atlas commander and an Atlas Hand Held unit. Since I wasn't using the Digitrax, it seemed like I certainly wouldn't be any worse off so I went for it.

    Atlas systems have a BIG KNOB as the controller and the commander is designed as an entry system. However, suddenly this DCC thing was what I was hearing from everyone else.. it was FUN.

    Many people told me.. you'll hate it, stick with Digitrax.. Digitrax does 4 digit addressing.. as if 4 digit addressing is some sort of Holy Grail, but some others told me.. if you can deal with 2 digit addressing (you have less that 100 locos) then everything in the Atlas system could be used if you ever want to upgrade to Lenz.

    Well, I spent a year or so just playing and having fun with trains, and then decided to go to the next stage and integrate a full CTC system alongside my DCC system.. For this reason only, I upgraded to a lenz 100 system. Why not a 90? well although I love the knob controllers such as the 90, its a lot cheaper to buy a 100 starter set and then add a 90 controller than the other way round, and I had (of course) the Atlas commander and handheld controllers with knobs.

    Now I have a wonderful system with Lenz and Atlas combined.. yes I still have 2 digit addressing (because I am still using my Atlas commander.. the Lenz 90 and 100 are all fully 4 digit adressing capable) and don't have a problem and a system I am extremely happy with.

    OK I have finished rambling, but ultimately this is a huge investment. If you feel you can be happy with 2 digit addressing, I personally would seriously consider trying DCC with an Atlas Commander and Generator duo pack.. its about the cheapest way to get into real DCC. However, if you have the cash, the Lenz 90 is an excellent choice and very intuitive to use. If you prefer push buttons rather than a knob.. look at the Lenz 100.

    If you have plans to link your system into a computer to make decoder programming easier and for some kind of automation later.. start with Lenz 90 or 100.

    As I say, its all very very personal, and its very much what you hold in your hand that makes or breaks the system.

    Whichever way you go, I am sure that you will have fun.. just bear in mind, there is a learning curve but stick through it and ASK questions.

    The only silly question is that which isn't asked :)


  6. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    I want to reinforce something Graham said. If you go Lenz (and I heartily recommend it, I'm very happy with mine), go with the 100. I originally went with a 90 (old fashioned and wanted a turny-knob), and ended up going up to the 100. Luckily the vendor (Tony's Trains) let me pretend I'd done it the right way round and save the money.

    Why? The 90 is an "engineer's throttle." It's really meant just to run a train. It's a little unfriendly in terms of inputting loco addresses, operating switches or sensors, etc. It's got a funky system for entering numbers where you press a button to toggle digits (i.e. to put in "373" you click the "hundreds" button 3 times, the "tens" button 7 times and the "ones" button three times). Whether you're putting in a loco address, switch address or whatever, you use this system which I found to be sort of a pain in the rumpus room, you see. There's just a lot of multiple-key-sequences going on to do much of anything.

    The 100, by contrast, just has a number-pad to put numbers in. You want to control loco # 3750, you type in 3-7-5-0... You want to run a different engine, hit "clear" and type in the new number. Want to switch a turnout, put in the number. Want to run a loco function like sound, lights, etc., just hit the number key for that function (i.e. to turn on/off the lights, hit "0").

    So why did I even keep the 90 controller? Because it's got a big fat knob while the 100 has up-down arrow buttons to control speed... If I'm just running a train or two, I grab the 90 and go. If I have more intense operations going on, I grab the 100. I must admit that over time I've become completely agnostic about the knob. I still like the "grab and twist" control, but the buttons work just fine too. Or, for the most part, I crank up the computer and run the layout on screen -- but that's a whole other story (and reason to go with Lenz)

    Note to any Manufacturers reading... I wish Lenz had the throttle from Prodigy Advance... It has the direct-input thing AND a plain old knob for speed... The rest of the Prodigy system wasn't gonna work for me (Only 2.5 amps, no wireless, no running DC locos, no computer-connectability so far as I know), but I seriously considered living with some of the limitations just for that throttle...

    I'll end off saying A) Absolutely thrilled I went to DCC, B) Very, very happy with Lenz (but was ready to not be when I only had the 90 controller), C) Completely agree that hands-on experience is the best way to judge. See if any local shops, clubs, etc. will let you come fiddle...

    Also recommend as a source -- good prices and superior support - he answered about 1,000 questions of mine and was always right (even when I didn't heed his advice). is also a good resource with lots of good info - but I've found some of his recommendations on wiring etc. to be overkill... It's all good advice, but maybe just a little TOO "orthodox"...
  7. dwight77

    dwight77 Member

    I am glad you guys think the only silly question is the one that isn't asked. This will eliminate one of my silly questions. I see that a power source is required to operate the DCC system. In Tony's Trains they talk about using a magna force power supply if you want 15-16 volts on your tracks - yet both the Atlas and Kato engines I have say a max of 12 volts should be used with the engines?????? I am missing something here if they recommend a 15-16 volt system when the engine manufacturer says no more than 12 volts.
  8. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    I'm a little shaky on this, but here's what I think it is:

    With DCC you have both DC (to run the train) and AC (to carry the signals to the decoders) on the track at the same time. I suspect what you're seeing is 15-16 volts AC (to ensure a strong signal) versus 12 volts DC to run the engines (when the signal tells them 'go')... I'm not 100% sure of that, but I know my multimeter shows both AC and DC in the track when the system is on...

    I do know for sure that I use the Magna Force power supply without any problem with locos ranging from brand new to 30 years old...
  9. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    My wife, the electrical engineer of the clan, tells me the above is completely wrong...

    Only AC on the tracks, decoder converts it to DC. But fundamentally, the point is the same: Strong AC = good signal, does not harm locos.
  10. moria

    moria Member

    Dwight, Hi :)

    okay, as has been said above, DCC is actually an AC waveform on the track with information "sent" using that AC as a carrier directed to the decoders that interpret that info, and turn that into an appropriate DC voltage for the motor. The voltage on your tracks using DCC is constant.

    You actually, though, raise an interesting point which, by the way, is an excellent advantage for the Lenz 90/100 systems.

    The Lenz system can have the AC voltage on the track modified by changing settings in the base unit. I run N gauge and actually have my AC set to 12V AC to the track rather than the delivered 16V AC. I do this for a number of reasons, but primarily because that way, the headlight bulbs in my Model Power Steam, which aren't connected to the decoders are less likely to blow, and also my top speeds are a little reduced, and I prefer it that way.

    Tony's trains has been mentioned here before as well. I spent ages talking to Tony about this, and although the Magna force is an excellent supply, He advised me to use another (and slightly cheaper one).. Yikes can't remember what it is now, but not a magna force.

    The reason being thus....

    These DCC beasts need a heafty power supply, but if the power supply voltage is more than a couple of volts different from what you are outputting to the track, then the difference must be dissipated, and that happens as excess heat build up in the Lenz control station. The magna Force delivery 16 - 18V AC... if you set the Lenz to 12VAC out.. thats almost 50% above what you need.. you are therefore risking an overtemperature shut down on your Lenz unit. (not good :) )

    My advise would be call Tony, ask the same questions, and then get what he recommends... He is good and so are his prices :)

    I have no relation with him other than satisfied customer.

    Also have a read of this site :-

    its also from Tony's trains and has some really good information about DCC and is written in English, not Technobabble :)


  11. dwight77

    dwight77 Member

    Graham and kchronister thanks for the help.....I will contact Tony as you suggest and let you know what he recommends.
  12. dwight77

    dwight77 Member

    kchronister - I was just reading back over your earlier response. Do I understand you correctly when you said that with Lenz 90, once you are up and running, that if you wanted to change commands and change the speed lets say of an engine that you had programmed in as #9879, that you would have to key in the "9" nine times, then the "8" eight times, the "7" seven times, and the "9" nine times and then make your speed change???????? could have a wreck by then!!!!!!!!.......this versus the Lenz 100 where you would just key in "9879" and then change your speed.......thats 33 finger strokes versus 4 !!!!
  13. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    Not exactly, dwight....

    Yes, to enter the number "9879" requires 33 keystrokes on the Lenz 90. But you don't have to enter that number every time - you can program up to 8 (or maybe it's 10, I forget) locos into the throttle at any given time.

    So if you were already running engine 9879 and wanted to change speed, you'd simply turn the dial.

    If you wanted to switch to engine "9656" and it was already one of your 8 engines the throttle can hold at any time, you'd just switch to it (though you'd have to remember whether it was programmed as number 1-8, the throttle doesn't use the actual decoder number) and turn the dial.

    However, if 9879 or 9656 weren't in the throttle's group of locos, then you'd have to do the 33 keystrokes to enter "9879".

    Or, for instance, if you wanted switch turnout 27, you'd have to do 12 keystrokes to enter the number ("tens" button twice, "ones" button 7 times, plus a few to get to the turnout control function). There's no way to "preset" switches into the throttle, you have to enter the key sequence and number every time.

    It doesn't sound like THAT big a deal, perhaps, but consider this. Say you're running a train around a simple loop-to-loop setup. You need to switch two turnouts for every go 'round (one on each reverse loop). You can quickly find yourself doing nothing but keeping up with those 24-keystrokes-per-circuit. And that's a dead-simple example. If you want to work in a yard or have a more complex setup with more turnouts, or want to run multiple trains, it turns into rather a nightmare...

    The main point to bear in mind is this. If you have only a few locos and really only want to run one at a time, and don't want to do a lot of switch control, then it's a perfectly good throttle - call up the loco, turn the knob right for faster, left for slower.

    But pretty much as soon as you get beyond running one or two trains and not much else, it becomes a royal pain in the rear...

    I know it sounds like I'm trashing the Lenz 90 throttle... I'm not. I'm simply saying it's a great add-on throttle, it's not a great primary throttle... Believe them -literally- when they refer to it as an "engineer's" throttle -- imagine yourself in the cab of a loco and the throttle will accomplish your purposes quite nicely. The 100 is called the "dispatcher's" throttle and that's also literally accurate -- dispatchers need to worry about turnouts, multiple trains, etc. and the 100 is fine for that. I still use the 90 regularly - but only when dealing with less complex operation - like just sending one train 'round the pike by myself.

    The Lenz system is GREAT. I can't tout it enough. I just don't want to see anyone get turned off a great system by buying a throttle that isn't really the one they want to start with...
  14. dwight77

    dwight77 Member

    kchronister - again...thank you for your insight.

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